Happy Birthday, Mr. Emperor


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

Yesterday was a truly beautiful sunny winter day in Tokyo. It was also a national holiday, in celebration of Emperor Akihito’s 77th birthday (天皇誕生日, or Tennō tanjōbi). On this day each year, they open the gates to the imperial palace to the public, and many Japanese citizens as well as tourists gather to catch a glimpse of the emperor and the imperial family and to hear the emperor speak. Given that the emperor’s birthday is so close to Christmas, I’ve never actually been in Japan for the occasion; however, since I’m spending the holidays in Tokyo this year, I thought I would make the trip to the center of the city and join the adoring throngs.

There was a definite feeling of excitement in the air as I stepped onto the castle grounds. Although people were proceeding in a typically orderly fashion, every once in a while you would catch someone start to scurry across the grounds of the imperial gardens in order to get to the palace just a little more quickly. Children were handing out Japanese flags near the entrances to the grounds so that everyone would be ready to wave them at the emperor when the time came:


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

We were put through a few different security checks on the way through the grounds until at last we reached the gate. Normally, you’d have to stop at this point and content yourself with a picture with the bridge and the portion of the palace visible below (as I’ve done many times in the past), but today, we actually got to go inside.


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

The imperial family was scheduled to make three appearances at around 10:20, 11:00, and 11:40 am. Not only the Emperor and Empress but also Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako and Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino were scheduled to appear. I’ve been reading about the trials and tribulations of Crown Princess Masako lately (inspired by this interesting editorial suggesting that she should attend Prince William’s wedding), so I was particularly excited to see her in person. I stayed for both the first and second appearances. My visibility was obscured by people’s heads, cameras, and waving flags, but I managed to get a pretty good look at the imperial family:


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san
Left to right: Crown Princess Masako, Crown Prince Naruhito, Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san
Another shot of Crown Princess Masako, Crown Prince Naruhito and the Emperor (unfortunately obscured by a portion of a waving Japanese flag)

I also pieced together the following video of the emperor’s short speech to the public (it was the same both times):


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

I know that you can’t/shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I think that Emperor Akihito looks incredibly sweet. He’s got one of those faces that just seems to beam out at you. Here’s a recent photo of him and the empress from the Imperial Household Agency:


Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, November 2010
Photo by AP/Imperial Household Agency of Japan

After the morning appearances, the emperor was greeted by Prime Minister Kan and other politicians and important people in the afternoon. He made a variety of comments on issues ranging from Japan’s missing centenarians and his own experience with aging to concerns about Princesses Masako and Aiko and pride over Japanese achievements in science and space. (Click here to read more.)

Anyway, it was fun to be out and about with so many excited (yet well-behaved) well-wishers on such a beautiful Thursday morning. It was really easy to get into the spirit of things:


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

Afterwards, we all filed out of the palace gardens toward our respective homes, “slowly and cautiously.”


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san


Creative Commons License Photo by kristi-san

A truly memorable experience!

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